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How to ensure a smooth visit with your child’s grandparents



Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 11/07/21

Try these strategies for a seamless and happy time together.

The holidays are fast approaching, and many of us are planning visits to extended family. If you’re planning a trip to see your parents or in-laws, here are some tried and true ways to ensure a smooth and happy time together.

In a perfect world, this article wouldn’t be necessary. Every family relationship would be effortlessly warm and respectful. 

But of course, that’s not always the reality. It’s not exactly a shocking revelation to say that relationships with parents and in-laws can be tricky. One survey found the following:

Only 27% percent of couples said they get along “extremely well” [with their in-laws]. What’s more, a stunning 70% of married people said their relationship with their in-laws has caused strain in their marriage.

These relationships can be even more strained when you add kids to the mix.

Sleep-deprived new parents generally have little tolerance for any perceived criticism, while grandparents may struggle to understand that their unsolicited advice is less helpful than they imagine. Add in different priorities for discipline, education, diet, etc., and these relationships can feel like a minefield.

The tension that may be part of these relationships, however, does not mean that visits aren’t worth any amount of hassle. Grandparents play an integral role in children’s lives, and children who grow up with loving, involved grandparents benefit enormously from their influence:

The grandparent/grandchild relationship is second in emotional importance only to the parent/child relationship. Some research shows that as many as 9 out of 10 adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their values and behaviors. 

With the obvious exception of unhealthy situations, it is worth the extra effort to cultivate your child’s relationship with their grandparents. Encouraging their relationship should be a priority for parents, and a little advance planning and preparation help a lot.

Now, of course, every family is different, and only you know what’s right for yours. But if you’d like some strategies for a seamless and happy visit with your child’s grandparents, here are some things to try.

1Pick your battles

Grandma and Grandpa want to make special memories with your kids, and sometimes that might involve doing things differently than what you do at home. As much as you feel comfortable allowing, let your standards slide a bit when you’re visiting. 

Decide ahead of time what are your non-negotiable rules, and lovingly let the grandparents know what those boundaries are. Then let other little things go. Nourishing the family relationships is the most important thing here.

2Explain your reasoning

Often, the rules you have for your family are different from what your parents or in-laws did when their children were small. So many things have changed over the decades!

If any tension arises over a difference in childcare tactics, try sharing factual information in a neutral way. There are plenty of informative articles out there explaining why you do things the way you do instead of the way Grandma and Grandpa used to do. 

Your insistence on doing things a certain way might seem arbitrary to your parents or in-laws at first. But once the grandparents understand the reason behind the rule, they are more likely to be understanding.

3Plan ahead for any pain points

Maybe you’ve noticed that certain differences in habits or expectations have caused problems on past visits. Before this year’s visit, plan ahead to soften those “pain points.” 

Bring whatever food, activities, or supplies would make those tense moments run more smoothly. For example, if Grandma always wants to bake cookies but you prefer your kids to avoid a lot of sugar, bring supplies for a healthier recipe that you’re OK with them having but that still allows for that special experience of baking together. 

4Encourage storytelling about family history

Personally, I like to plan ahead specific questions for my kids to ask older relatives whom we don’t see often. For example, maybe you want your kids to know about Grandpa’s experience growing up on a farm, or about Grandma’s story of immigrating to America as a young woman.This really helps children get to know their grandparents, and it’s a sweet and special way to honor the experiences of the older generation.

Make a quick list ahead of time so you remember to bring up those things (a note on your phone works well!). This is one of my favorite ways to build that connection between your children and their grandparents, and hopefully it helps the grandparents know how much we value and appreciate the wisdom they have to share. 

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